He left with his first NHL win, after having what he described in a post-game interview as “the time of my life out there.”
“Actually I got a bunch of text messages that said get in there,” Ayres, 42, told Sportsnet in an interview after the game.
“Someone came into the room and said ‘Hey you better get dressed, you’re going out there.’ So I was a little shocked but loving it.”
An ex-junior goalie and a Zamboni driver for the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, Ayres was available to both teams as a backup goalie.
But he wound up subbing in for the Hurricanes after the team lost two goalies — James Reimer and Petr Mrazek — to injury.
The Canes wound up winning 6-3 over the Leafs.
Ayres told Sportsnet that the second period felt “a little shaky” to him.
“But I told the boys in the dressing room once we come up in the third, I’ll be settled down and ready to win this one,” he said.
One player told him to have fun, Ayres added.
“One of the guys said to me ‘Just have fun, we don’t care if you let 10 goals in,’” Ayres said. “That settled me right down and it was great.”
He said he’s been on the ice before without fans in the arena.
“Put fans in the mix and it’s a whole different game obviously, but hey, once in a lifetime, I’ll take it,” Ayres said.
In a video tweeted by the Hurricanes after the game, the team greets Ayres with cheers as he walks into a locker room, still in his goalie gear.
The team’s coach Rod Brind’Amour is seen speaking in the video, telling the players they just gave him a game to remember.
“It’s not often in a game that you get tied to a great memory,” he says in the clip.
“That’s why you do this. You’ll see when you’re done, you’ll go back, you’ll look back, all you have is the memories you got, and you guys just gave me one.”
The governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, also reacted to Ayres’ performance in the game, tweeting: “I’m ready to make emergency goaltender and zamboni driver David Ayres an honorary North Carolina citizen after courageous @Canes win. Amazing.”
— With files by The Canadian Press